Danny Kemp | AFP
Published — Thursday 21 February 2013
Last update 21 February 2013 10:12 pm
LONDON: Three British Muslim men were found guilty on Thursday of planning a string of bombings that prosecutors said could have been deadlier than the July 7, 2005, attacks on London’s transport network.
Irfan Naseer, 31, Irfan Khalid, 27, and Ashik Ali, 27, were convicted of being “central figures” in an Islamist extremist plot to set off eight rucksack bombs and possibly other timed devices in crowded areas.
The three men, all from Birmingham, central England, had denied charges of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts during their trial at Woolwich Crown Court in London.
Despite a series of bungles by the conspirators, police said it was the most significant terror plan uncovered in Britain since the 2006 plot to blow up transatlantic airliners using bombs in drinks bottles.
Two of the men — Naseer and Khalid — traveled to Pakistan for terror training while Naseer also helped others to travel to the country for the same purpose, the court heard.
The group were heavily influenced by the teachings of American-born Al-Qaeda preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was killed by a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011, police said.
Naseer was found guilty of five charges, Khalid four, and Ali three, all between December 25, 2010 and September 19, 2011.
Six other Birmingham men aged between 21 and 26 pleaded guilty to terror offenses at an earlier date.
Judge Richard Henriques said Naseer, Khalid and Ali will face life in prison when they are sentenced in April or May.
He told Naseer: “You were seeking to recruit a team of somewhere between six and eight suicide bombers to carry out a spectacular bombing campaign, one which would create an anniversary along the lines of 7/7 or 9/11.”
In Britain’s deadliest ever suicide bombing, three Islamist attackers blew themselves up on London’s subway system and another on a bus on July 7, 2005, killing 52 people.
Al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington left nearly 3,000 people dead.
Karen Jones, the prosecutor in the case of Naseer, Khalid and Ali, said that while their “precise targets remained unclear” there could have been “catastrophic” damage and loss of life from the plot.
“The evidence we put to the court showed the defendants discussing with awe and admiration the attacks of 9/11 and 7/7. These terrorists wanted to do something bigger, speaking of how 7/7 had ‘gone a bit wrong’,” Jones said after the verdicts.
“Having traveled to Pakistan for expert training and preparation, Naseer and Khalid returned to the UK where they discussed attacks involving up to eight rucksacks.
“Had they not been stopped, the consequences would have been catastrophic.”
Led by Naseer, an unemployed pharmacy graduate nicknamed Chubbs because of his weight, the group tried to fund the plot by posing as street collectors for the charity Muslim Aid and managed to raise £12,000 ($18,400, 13,700 euros).
But the group then lost three quarters of that sum while playing the foreign currency markets and had to take out loans, the trial heard.
British domestic intelligence agency MI5 recorded them discussing the plot during the 18-month investigation before they were arrested while headed for a takeaway meal in September 2011.
During the surveillance Naseer was heard talking about mixing poison into creams such as Vaseline or Nivea and smearing them on car handles to kill people, and about welding blades to a truck and driving it into people.
Naseer and Khalid were also recorded reminiscing about a time at the training camp in Pakistan when a “Pakistani guy, AQ (Al-Qaeda) guy” told them to hide under a tree for four hours to avoid a US drone flying overhead.
“Underneath the tree, the drone can’t detect you, innit,” Naseer said.
“So I’m lying underneath the tree innit, and the drones are right about me bro, and it’s going (makes a sound like a drone) and I’m thinking any minute it’s going to fire a missile,” Naseer said.